A U.S. Immigration Clinic in the Age of Trump

A U.S. Immigration Clinic in the Age of Trump

By Amanda Frost & Ann Garcia

Amanda Frost is a Professor of Law and Acting Director of American University’s Immigrant Justice Clinic. Ann Garcia is a 3L at American University and a Student-Attorney in the clinic. This article is originally featured as a guest post on the University of Oxford Border Criminologies Blog

Over the past two weeks, President Trump followed through on his promise to upend the United States’ immigration system.  On January 25, he issued two executive orders on immigration.  His first order ramped up immigration enforcement, changed enforcement priorities, and sought to punish “sanctuary cities”—those localities which have refused to assist federal immigration officials in deporting unauthorized immigrants.  Trump’s second executive order calls on federal agencies to build a “physical wall along the southern border,” to hire 5,000 additional Border Patrol agents, and to build and staff additional detention facilities near the U.S.-Mexico border, among other mandates.  Then, on Friday January 27 at 4:43pm, Trump issued an executive order banning entry into the United States of all citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, including lawful permanent residents and non-immigrant visa holders, such as students and temporary workers.  These executive orders created chaos at United States airports, stranded refugees, separated families, mobilized lawyers, and produced six separate injunctions from federal judges persuaded that they are likely illegal.

Photo: Amanda Frost

One author of this post, Amanda Frost, is a law professor who is serving this year as Acting Director of American University’s Immigrant Justice Clinic, which provides assistance to indigent and low-income immigrants in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.  The other author, Ann Garcia, is one of sixteen clinic students who has devoted most of this academic year to representing clients in immigration court.  For the past two weeks, the clinic has been forced to respond to nearly daily crises for our clients and our community.  We’ve offered our legal services at international airports, taken on a Sudanese client who has been barred from visiting his hospitalized U.S. citizen child, met with our clients to warn them of the new risks, and spent our free time protesting at the White House.  It’s hard to believe we are only two weeks into the Trump presidency.

Two days after the election, the clinic students and faculty met to discuss our response to the election.  During the campaign for President, Trump had been a fiery radical—proposing a Muslim ban one day, insisting on removing all 11.3 million unauthorized immigrants the next.  He declared that once President he would build a “big, beautiful, powerful wall” on the Mexican-U.S. border, and Mexico would pay for it.  He was particularly adamant about going after “criminal aliens”—a group that he didn’t define explicitly, but seemed to include longtime lawful permanent residents who had committed minor offenses, and immigrants who had been charged but not convicted of crimes.  We knew we had to prepare for the worst.

Photo: Amanda Frost

At our post-election meeting, we decided to counsel those of our clients lacking secure immigration status, advising them not to leave the country and to come up with a “safety plan” if they were arrested.  We recommended that they memorize our phone number, as well as the number of a close friend or relative.  We told them they needed to execute a power of attorney, arrange for back-up child care, and be sure that someone could access their bank account to pay for rent and other expenses in case they were detained or removed.  Many asked us what their chances were avoiding detention and deportation, and we had no easy answers.  No one knew what would come next.

We also tried to support the community of immigrants living in the Washington, D.C. area (which includes Northern Virginia and Maryland).  We joined forced with an alliance of local immigration organizations and offered know-your-rights presentations to local schools and churches.  And we have offered our assistance to immigrant students and staff at American University, which is currently weighing whether to join the dozens of other institutions of higher education in announcing that it will not assist immigration authorities seeking to enter or search the campus for unauthorized immigrants, some of whom may be students or staff.

Photo: Amanda Frost

Looking back, the period that followed was the calm before the storm.  As we waited for Trump to take office, we noted that he seemed to be softening his stance towards immigrants.  He abandoned the idea of removing all unauthorized immigrants immediately—an impossible task that would cost billions of dollars and create chaos—and instead promised to prioritize removal of “criminal aliens,” not so different from President Obama (who removed 2.8 million unauthorized immigrants during his 8 years in office).  Trump even showed sympathy for some unauthorized immigrants , describing them as “terrific people.”    Finally, he nominated John Kelly for Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, a moderate on immigration who acknowledged during his confirmation hearing that “law abiding individuals” were unlikely to be removed due to “limited assets to secure the law.”  We began to hope that President Trump would take a less radical stance than his previous statements suggested.

We were wrong.  Now that we are two weeks into Trump’s Presidency, we know that he will try to turn the campaign rhetoric into reality.  Trump’s January 25 executive order further expands the federal deportation machine, ramps up detention, expands enforcement priorities, and seeks to penalize cities and states that have chosen not to assist federal immigration authorities.  (To accomplish these goals he first has to convince Congress to fund them, and his efforts to coerce cities into assisting in immigration enforcement are sure to be challenged on constitutional grounds).

Then on January 27, Trump signed into law a sweeping executive order that is a variation on the Muslim ban he proposed during the campaign.  The order bans all refugees from entering the United States for 120 days, and indefinitely bans Syrian refugees from coming to the United States.  He also barred all citizens of seven countries –Yemen, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, and Libya—from entering the United States, even if they are lawful permanent residents who have lived in the country for most of their lives.

Chaos ensued.  Customs and Border Patrol officials were forcing visa holders back onto planes and refusing to let lawyers meet with their clients.  One officer told a lawyer who complained that if he didn’t like it, he should “call Mr. Trump.”  No one else could help him.

Photo: Amanda Frost

Happily, the rule of law, judicial independence, and civil society are resilient.  Lawyers and protestors swarmed to airports—including several students from the Immigrant Justice Clinic.  Legal services organizations, immigration advocacy organization, law clinics, and state attorneys general filed suits in New York, Virginia, Washington, California, and Massachusetts.  Injunctions were issued within twenty-four hours barring Customs and Border officials from deporting refugees back to countries where their lives were in danger, requiring that citizens from the banned countries with visas be allowed to enter, and mandating access to counsel.

The Trump administration was slow to respond to these injunctions.  Although it reversed itself and agreed that lawful permanent residents from the seven banned countries could enter the United States despite the executive order, it did not appear to allow nonimmigrants from those countries to enter the United States, and thus airlines were refusing to permit these visa holders onto flights.  But then on Friday night the district court in Washington state issued a clear and sweeping injunction halting the implementation of the executive order.  The Trump Administration is now complying with that order, but not before requesting an immediate stay of the Washington judge’s decision, which was rejected by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals last night.  As we write this, we are about to leave for Dulles airport to welcome our clinic’s Sudanese client back to the United States to visit his family.  The legal fight is just beginning, but if nothing else this past week has proven that judges and lawyers can serve as a bulwark against hastily drafted and illegal executive action against immigrants.

For more information on the WCL Immigrant Justice Clinic, visit the webpage!



With Help from IP Clinic Students, “Yasuni Man” Premiering at DC Environmental Film Festival March 19

WCL Glushko-Samuelson IP Clinic

For seven years, United States biologist Ryan Killackey researched and filmed the 1,500 kilometer Yasuni biosphere reserve in Ecuador, one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet.  The resulting documentary explores “the impact of oil development on the biodiversity of the forest and its people,” and effectively “tells the story of the conflict in Yasuni that has pitted biodiversity and human rights against extractive industries and human consumption.”

This 90-minute film has already won 3 awards and several official selections so far on the film festival circuit. The Glushko-Samuelson Clinic, along with its student attorneys Aaron Wicker, Aurelie Mathieu, David Najera, and Joanna Scleidorovich, are credited at the end of the film.

Tickets are now on sale for the Yasuni Man DC Premiere at the D.C. Environmental Film Festival on Sunday, March 19th from 7-9pm at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

Please follow this link to purchase tickets:


For further reading:

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IP Clinic Alums Return to Toast Professor Jaszi!!!

WCL Glushko-Samuelson IP Clinic

On November 17th over 50 IP Clinic alums and former faculty returned to campus to hear founding faculty member Professor Peter Jaszi deliver the annual Distinguished Lecture on Intellectual Property.  Peter’s lecture was “Cultural practice and copyright justice: Confessions of a semi-reconstructed auteurist”   

At the celebratory reception clinic alums, faculty and current students had the chance to mingle and toast the man who started it all!

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Preserving Community History – American Legion James Reese Europe Post No. 5

The James Reese Europe Post No. 5 of the American Legion met for the first time in 1919 in an empty freight rail car at the Washington Navy Yard to form one of the nation’s first African American veterans’ organizations. The post’s namesake, Lieutenant James Reese Europe, who grew up in Washington, D.C., was a jazz musician and director of the 369th U.S. Infantry Band. The 369th, known as the Harlem Hellfighters, was an African American regiment that served more combat time in WWI than any other unit. Ironically, at the time, it was difficult for African Americans to serve in the military because of racist assumptions about their fitness for duty. Europe and his regiment not only blew apart those stereotypes, but they also helped to spread American ragtime and jazz music all over the world.

Upon their return from WWI, African American veterans were excluded from traditional veteran support organizations, which led to the creation of Post No. 5. The post has been located at 2027 N. Capitol St. NW since 1954. In its 95 years in the community, it has provided support for generations of veterans and their families and served the community through youth programs, service projects, and events to bring people together.

Over the past several years, the AUWCL Community and Economic Development Law Clinic has been working with Post No. 5 to preserve and find a location to house its rich archive of historical documents, pictures, and artifacts. In collaboration with AU School of Communications Professor Angie Chuang and Prologue DC, who have worked on aspects of the research and archiving process, the CEDLC hopes to help Post No. 5 determine the next stage of its mission. CEDLC Professor Brenda Smith says, “I think the Post has a future that it can’t really see yet. I feel that the Post is going to be a place where people come to study the participation of African Americans in conflicts.”

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How Clinic Builds Leaders

White House

Those who watched President Bill Clinton’s speech at the DNC last Tuesday in support of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s nomination as the Democratic candidate for the presidency might have noticed not just one, but two brief references to clinical legal education. Specifically, President Clinton noted that Secretary Clinton worked with a clinical project while a student at Yale Law School, and while teaching at the University of Arkansas School of Law, she started “the first legal aid clinic in northwest Arkansas, providing legal aid services to poor people who couldn’t pay for them.”

Regardless of whether one supports her candidacy, Secretary Clinton has proven herself as a leader throughout her career. This got the AUWCL faculty thinking about how clinical legal education promotes leadership qualities.

1. “Clinical education is like cross fit. You have to use different muscles and activities to achieve your goal. It means you are constantly doing balance checks and adjusting.  That kind of practice builds endurance, tenacity and capacity – skills you need to work for justice and to have a long career as a lawyer.”Professor Brenda V. Smith, Community & Economic Development Law Clinic.

2. “In clinic, we teach our students to see the world through the eyes of their clients and then to use that perspective to engage in zealous advocacy that not only accomplishes clients’ objectives, but also projects their clients’ authentic voices in spaces in which they often feel silenced. These are critical leadership skills.”Professor Llezlie Green Coleman, Civil Advocacy Clinic.

3. “Clinical legal pedagogy is about helping great people who want to do great things in the world overcome their fears.” Professor Anita Sinha, Immigrant Justice Clinic.

4. “Engaging in clinical work involves a transformative experience in the way we understand the contributing factors to inequality in society. That new perspective stays with students and professors throughout our professional careers, influencing our decisions and actions regardless of the paths we take.”Professor Andrea Parra, Immigrant Justice Clinic.

5. “Clinic produces great leaders because we give students space to ask, ‘Why? Why the injustice? Why the suffering? And why not? Why not advocate in this way? Why not push back? Why not take a second or closer look?’ We don’t just stop at asking those questions. Then we say, okay do something: act, move, go.”Professor Claire Donohue, Domestic Violence Clinic.

6. “Clinical teachers are reformers, concerned about injustice and focused on changing the institutions that contribute to it. They are advocates for the types of change that only the political system can accomplish.” Professor Elliott Milstein, Civil Advocacy Clinic

Are you an AUWCL Clinic alum? What do you think? If you think of ways your clinical experience shaped your career, please comment below.

Building Bridges, Not Walls

WCL Community Economic Development Law Clinic

2016.03.28 CED Blog Post Picture

Artist’s rendering of proposed 11th Street Bridge Park between the Navy Yard and Anacostia

The Anacostia River (the “River”) separates the District of Columbia’s Ward 7 and Ward 8 from the other six Wards. The River is not only a physical gap between the two parts of D.C., but also a demographic divide. “East of the river,” where Ward 7 and Ward 8 are located, is a term associated with poverty, unemployment, and lack of resources. Home values on the east side average $300,000 lower than the west side of the River, only fifty percent of the population on the east side are homeowners, and unemployment rates are three times higher on the east side. The soon-to-be-constructed 11th Street Bridge Park will become an important bridge connecting the upbeat Navy Yard and luxurious Capital Hill with the historically low-income neighborhood of Anacostia, to help boost economic development east of…

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Negotiating For Our Future: Is the Exelon/Pepco Merger Right for the District?

WCL Community Economic Development Law Clinic


The Exelon/Pepco merger first proposed in April 2014 has come to a major turning point with a newly negotiated deal. The merger will bring together Exelon, the largest nuclear power utility company in the United States, with Pepco, the investor-owned public utility company providing electricity to Washington, D.C. and parts of Maryland. The D.C. Public Service Commission unanimously rejected the original proposed merger in August 2014. At the time, Mayor Bowser resisted the merger, saying, “Exelon didn’t provide adequate guarantees on affordability, reliability and environmental sustainability.”

The proposal was resurrected earlier this year, and Mayor Bowser held private meetings with Exelon and Pepco to negotiate a better deal for the District. Exelon is threatening to walk on the deal if approval is not granted within five months. This time frame would not allow a complete and thorough review that is desired by much of the D.C. public and the Public…

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